"Drastic" Budget Cuts, From Oregon... 03/05/03
Times Watch for
Fighting state spending cuts and hawking tax hikes top the
Times' agenda today. Meanwhile, a giraffe dies on the West Bank.
"Drastic" Budget Cuts, From Oregon...
Oregon's budget woes are resulting in cutbacks in the state's once-admired public health system. From Portland, reporter Timothy Egan
wrote: "In a state that says it is already so short of public money it does not have enough to keep all the schools open and prosecute many criminals, Oregon took another drastic step this week to cover budget shortfalls: it cut off medications to thousands of schizophrenics, manic-depressives, drug addicts and others who are poor and have no health care."
Egan fingered the culprit: Oregonians unwilling to vote for tax hikes. "Hit by a harsh recession after a series of tax-cutting measures pared the budget to the bone, Oregon, which has no statewide sales tax, now lacks enough money for health care, schools, prisons and criminal prosecution."
Although it's nice to see the Times suddenly gung-ho on prison spending, Egan's claim of Oregon's fiscal austerity doesn't add up. An Oregon taxpayer group noted that the Oregon General Fund Budget grew from $5.5 billion to $11.3 billion between 1991 to 2001.
(General Fund revenues represent funds under control of the legislature, like income tax, capital gains tax and corporate
taxes). Even with the tax cuts, Oregon's budget doubled over 10 years-it was hardly "pared to the bone."
"Oregon has pared back the insurance, and removed prescription drug coverage for things like mental illness and drug addiction," Egan continued. "Most of the cuts went into effect March 1, but others started Feb. 1, just days after Oregonians voted in a referendum against a tax increase to balance their budget." The result? "Most people who were given coverage have lost their prescription drugs. Some are now wandering the streets or screaming in public squares."
Sounds like a scary time to be covering Portland. But Egan's wording was misleading. As the Oregon Department of Human Services web site
noted, the state did indeed eliminate mental health drug benefits for 100,000-plus members-but on March 1, precisely two days before Egan filed his story. Were people already "wandering the streets" and "screaming in public squares" for lack of medication after just two days? The February 1 cuts were for "housekeeping, shopping and personal care" as well as "24-hour care in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult foster homes"--not medication for the mentally ill.
Oregon isn't the only state in trouble with the
Times for its failure to raise taxes. When Connecticut Gov. John Rowland emphasized spending cuts over tax hikes in his annual address to state lawmakers, Paul von Zielbauer
where the taxes were. "Today's proposal reflects Mr. Rowland's clear preference for cutting spending first and raising taxes only as a last resort. It includes no income tax increases and cuts aid to some of the state's poorest and most vulnerable residents."
Yet the only specific cuts the article mentioned were a 3 percent cut in state aid to public schools and the elimination of some rather puny-sounding state agencies: The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Office of the Victim Advocate and the Council on Environmental Quality.
Zielbauer then chided: "Many Democrats seemed particularly annoyed that Mr. Rowland, after backtracking last week on his support for a tax on residents earning at least $1 million, seemed intent on protecting the state's wealthiest residents from sharing more of the tax burden."
Zielbauer seems rather annoyed with Rowland as well.
Two Legs Good, Four Legs Better
From the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, reporter James Bennet
expressed sympathy for "oppressed zoo animals. He reported from the largest zoo in Palestinian territory, in which "the zebras succumbed to tear gas and "the giraffe died when he collapsed in terror during a burst of gunfire." Bennet wrote that because of the conflict, "the zookeepers have not been able to bring in any new animals." One wishes Bennet would shower that same kind of sympathy on Israeli humans from time to time, who after all must live every day under the threat of Palestinian terrorists.